Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 3, 2003
In search of St. Patrick
A Carrara marble alter is ensconced in the sanctuary
St. Patrick - Feast Day - March 17
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
When Victorian author Rudyard Kipling, visiting Medicine Hat in 1907 and impressed by the city's natural gas resources, declared that it "seems to have all hell for a basement," he couldn't have foreseen that within a short six years, the exquisite twin spires of St. Patrick's Neo-Gothic parish church would begin to soar heavenward against the southern Alberta sky.
The church, most prominent structure in the city's downtown, was officially blessed and named on St. Patrick's Day, 1932.
Constructed of reinforced concrete, the building is an early example of a continuous-pour structure. It was raised using a series of elevators and pipes to distribute the building material before the days of ready-mix concrete. Unfortunately, contractual problems resulted in years of litigation so that it was 19 years, part of which found worshippers using the basement as their church, before the entire building was accessible to the congregation.
St. Patrick, universally associated with Ireland, is honoured on his feast day with enthusiasm, if not always piety, in all parts of the world where Irish emigrants have settled.
He is noted for the establishment of a cathedral at Armagh and for the conversion of the population of Ireland. His association with the island began when; as a youth, he was carried off by Irish raiders. While enslaved for six years he experienced a spiritual awakening. Reunited with his family in Britain, he was encouraged in visions to return to pagan Ireland. There, following his ordination to the priesthood in France, he succeeded St. Palladius as the chief missionary.
Through a series of miracles, he overcame opposition to Christianity all over the island.
Visitors to his church in Medicine Hat are greeted by an effigy of St. Patrick, ensconced between double solid oak doors at the southern entrance. D‚cor here is of the Gothic Revival style that pervades all parts of the edifice in imitation of the great medieval European churches. Clean lines that result from the smooth concrete surfaces of the walls and towers are a dramatic change from the rough brick or stone textures of older churches.
St. Patrick's has experienced several periods of renovation and restoration. Floodlights to illuminate the fa‡ade were provided in 1981 by the Alberta 75th Committee and in 1996 a plaque was installed identifying the building as a national historic site.
Inside, the focus of the church design is the original large, castellated, Carrara marble altar, still in place at the back of the sanctuary. A large crucifix high above it is flanked by stained glass windows that symbolically represent major church feasts.
Large, bright, modern stained glass windows pierce the side walls of the nave and depict saints - Therese, John, Patrick and others. In 1932, to alleviate winter heating problems, a wooden false ceiling was installed. It is a work of art, heavily ribbed and of a rich dark brown colour. And in the transepts, the wood sets of huge rose windows acquired in 1953 from France.
Local artist Jim Marshal, whose unique brick sculptures are found throughout downtown Medicine Hat, designed two large works in 1999 that embellish the south end of the nave. They represent the Great Jubilee logo and the Ascension of Our Lord.
St. Patrick's has always enjoyed enthusiastic parishioner support, as evidenced by the many peripheral organizations actively seeing to the needs of parish and community. Three weekend Masses are supplemented by Eucharistic celebrations at other sites in the parish. At one of these, St. Joseph's Home, just down the street from the church, there's an impressive outdoor Stations of the Cross fabricated in light-coloured brick by Jim Marshal.